Chapter 21: The Victor
One left. The Victor.
He blinked his eyes open, his vision blurry.
He closed his eyes for a beat before opening them, his vision almost fighting to come into focus before he heard a prominent gasp - not his.
"Oh, my god! He's awake! HE'S AWAKE!"
"Jesus, Cass, bring it down a notch," he groaned, recognizing the voice immediately.
He heard his mentor laugh.
The last moments he had spent with her before he went to the Games... he pegged them as his last with her.
He blinked his eyes open and turned his head to watch her.
And yet, here he was, hearing her laugh.
"What did you expect, kid? THe surgeries took a while, but they said you wake up two days ago."
"Days?" he whispered, suddenly out of breath. "Surgeries?" His chest hurt. His stomach hurt... his body hurt...
"You won, you know that right?" she reached forward to rest a hand on his arm, squeezing his wrist. "Haymitch... you won. You're alive," she squeezed him again, her eyebrows furrowing but her eyes in a daze, "What you did out there-"
Suddenly Cassie was pushed away and a man in white scrubs and face mask loomed over him, poking his body with a needle without warning and checking his vitals. Haymitch cursed the man as the he poked at him as though he wasn't alive at all...
The man in the face mask stood up straight and looked up at a corner of the room, giving a final nod. Haymitch followed to man's gaze to see a camera. mounted in the corner. There were camera's mounted in every corner of the room.
"All clear. Victor is one hundred percent up to par," the man said before exiting, leaving Haymitch and Cassie alone again. She silently took her seat again, clearing her throat as she stared at him. He only stared back.
"So, Haymitch, where do you think you are right now?" Cassie asked slowly.
"Probably in the Capitol. Like you said, I... I'm here... so that means my terrible nightmare is actually reality, and like the masked asshole said as though I wasn't in the room, I'm the 'Victor'. Did I leave anything out?"
Her eyes grew wet.
"Haymitch, what you did out there…" she repeated, "I can't even begin to-"
"Then don't begin at all. Not now. Actually not ever, alright? Just… get me the hell out of here. Get me home. Is my family here? Can I see Finn?"
Cassie shook her head.
"Family reunion is always back at the Victor's District. There's the Victor's interview, the Victor's parade and you'll be on your way home."
"Christ, you guys and your parades... fine, fine. Let's get this all over with. If you tell Clara to keep her voice to a low volume, she can help me prepare."
"It's almost time, kid," Cassie said, sitting down next to him, taking the glass of Scotch from his hand.
He'd had a continuous glass since he started. Thanks to the Avox's it was never empty - since breakfast.
Though sometimes they would add ice, and he suspected even juice instead - some glasses were suddenly sweeter. He'd always tried to catch their gaze, as though to maybe thank them or confirm his suspicions that they were trying to keep him on the edge between drunk and pass out drunk - but their eyes were always averted, never moving.
The liquor was now his favorite choice of drink - so he didn't really care about what he was about to do; he was intoxicated enough. The Avox's had made sure of that.
"Are they going to drag out Maysilee?" he asked, already knowing the answer, "I would rather not talk about it... ever," he mumbled.
"Your alliance? Probably. Your kiss?" Cassie whispered the last part, and Haymitch snapped his head to glare at her.
He'd known the risk, showing affection like that. Knowing then that the Gamemakers could broadcast it, leaving the nation to talk about the two of them, over-analyze...
She shook her head.
"The version they broadcast didn't show it. Remy ran into a pack of the squirrels you know so well just in time - the Gamemakers decided to show that instead."
He let out a held in breath, and closed his eyes. Those furry bastards actually saved him - he just didn't know it.
"Haymitch... about... I'm so sorry," Cassie whispered, but he just shook his head.
"Mr. Abernathy, it's time," a Peacekeeper said sternly as he entered the room.
Haymitch stood up, finishing the rest of his glass before tossing it onto the table, ready to bullshit his interview.
Which he barely remembered, thanks to the copious amounts of Scotch.
He found that the drink drowned out his nightmares and flashbacks of the Arena when he was asleep, but more importantly when he was awake. Having nightmares during the day was a different experience altogether. The Capitol had expertly hidden the effects of post traumatic stress disorder of the previous victors.
Except Cassie, everybody was silent towards him.
At first, they had greeted him with enthusiasm and congratulations, but after he sent a worn-out glare their way they shut up; which he much preferred. There was nothing to congratulate. They all still saw it as a Game. He just wanted to survive to get back to his family, to help keep them fed. To help keep them alive.
Mackie dressed him for the Victor's parade quietly - this time with another simple suit like he had worn for the interview - and then walked with him to the chariot, the same one he rode during the introductory parade with Dylan.
But he wasn't there. Dylan was dead. They all were dead; forty-seven of them. Nobody else was there but him.
The lone survivor. The Victor.
Mackie turned and gripped his shoulders, holding him tightly.
"I will never forget you Haymtich, and I'm not just saying it for Victor's sake."
He blinked in surprise and yet waited for her to continue, ready to block out her useless words of apologies and admiration, just as he had done to everybody else who spewed the same bullshit - though her beginning was different.
However, she surprised him even more.
"Watching you… a fighter with pure compassion... fighting for survival with a consious... it was nothing like I've seen before. That first girl you came across… then Maggie… then the boy and girl with the butterfly… and the alliance with-"
"Get to the point," he snapped, not wanting to hear her name.
"Enough of that shit, Haymitch," she snapped. He raised his eyebrows. "You need to put on a great smile now or the Capitol will give you problems you don't want to deal with. On top of the force field fiasco-"
"Haymitch! Get on that chariot NOW!" Clara shrieked, interrupting them. Haymitch jumped up and held the reigns tightly to balance himself, turning back to his designer.
"Mackie what did I do-"
"Smile, kid! Goddammit, just SMILE!" she shouted as the horses starting trotting, leading him into the blinding sunlight and a deafening cheer from the crowd.
He tried to hide his drunken state as he waved obligingly to the screaming colorful crowd, cheering his 'victory' of out-living and killing the forty-seven Tributes to get here.
The chariot stopped near the podium, and he was lead off by more Peacekeepers - this time not manhandled by them - leading him to the large platform where he would be crowned.
He watched President Lannis approach him, smile in full view as he shook his hand, someone standing the the side holding a pillow where the Victor's crown lay.
Haymitch felt an unfamiliar shiver run down his spine at the look the man was giving him.
It reminded him of Remy's gaze before their final fight: unflinching, merciless, and out for blood.
Haymitch stood there absentmindedly, focusing on keeping his legs straight and staying chipper and happy, as Mackie had advised. Given his Scotch induced state, he found it difficult, but he held is own.
As President Lannis put the Victor's crown on his head, leading to another uproar of the crowd, he took to chance to lean forward and whisper:
"Smile while you still can."
He was sitting on the sofa in the penthouse, absentmindedly watching the forest scene May had liked, his eyes tracking flies, rats, or the occasional bird.
He turned and watched as Cassie came to stand next to him.
"Up on the roof, come on," she said, grabbing his arm tightly.
She dragged him to the elevator despite his protests, opened a hidden panel on the side under the buttons, and pressed in a code onto a small keypad. The elevator shot up quickly, and the doors opened to the roof.
This time instead of bright sunlight, a hovercraft, and a row of Peacekeepers to ensure he made his way to the Arena... it was bare empty concrete.
"What the hell, Cassie?" he said, pulling from her grip and walking near the edge, his mouth falling open from this view of the Capitol.
So many colored lights, differently shaped buildings all shiny and clean; with no sight of natural green, not a tree in sight. The rich; living in their homes in comfort, bellies full, no worries in their future. No hunger. No raised possibility of being chosen for the Games.
"First off, you did good."
"Well, yeah, there's only one winner, right?" he snapped. His mouth felt dry after finishing his second bottle of wine for the night.
"Secondly, you fucked up, kid."
He turned his gaze from the bright lights of the Capitol to a frowning Cassie.
"That thing with the border, using the cliff… they're pissed, Haymitch."
"Why? They're the ones that made that abomination of an Arena, right?" he slurred, walking forward to the edge.
"Not with the intention for someone to reach the end! It's the same forcefield they use on this roof. Throw your body over, and you come right back up," she said, coming forward to stand next to him. "The thorny brush was meant to dissuade you from going any further; nobody was supposed to find it."
"I still don't understand what-"
"They see it as you exploiting a weakness. You won in a way that showed the Capitol doesn't have complete control in the Games. And the Capitol… they don't play nice with those who show their weaknesses."
He sucked in a big breath.
"Shit," he breathed out.
"Yeah, my thoughts exactly. Haymitch… you gotta clean up your act. When you get home they leave you alone, that's until the Victory Tour, but that's later. For now… and even then... you need to kiss some serious ass."
"President Lannis, he told me to smile while I still could… is he going to hurt my family? Finn, my dad? Will they retaliate against May's family-"
"Not unless you play stupid," she shook her head, "you did well with that for the exiting interview, but you need to keep playing it. You didn't know that the axe would come back. Yes, the rocks came back, but you thought only lighter objects could come back up, not the weapon. Using that force field made them look stupid... you need to turn the attention away from that, and sadly, onto you."
"Can you do that, Mitch?" she asked.
He turned around quickly, his eyes glaring.
"Never call me that. Nobody gets to call me that."
Cassie's eyes widened, but she nodded as she tilted her head.
"Okay... but Haymitch, can you-"
"Just get Clara to help me with the questions, I can be a puppet for a while... I guess."